ALCTS Eforum – Work/Life Balance Hosted by Robert Roose and Leslie Burke

On March 13 and 14, 2013, the Association for Library Collections and Technical Services (ALCTS), a division of the American Library Association held an eforum discussion on work/life balance. View the complete ALCTS Eforum Daily Summary

Listed below are many of the questions asked of the forum participants:

  • Does your workplace have programs (flex-time, maternity leave, child care) and a culture supporting work/life balance?
  • What programs or organizational support (or lack of support) does your institution offer?
  • Would you consider a wellness/health-related program to be an integral part of a work/life balance culture or are they (or should they be) different?
  • Do others notice a difference between schedule expectations for faculty-status or management and support staff? Do you think it’s a salaried vs. hourly model?
  • How do you keep work stress from “overflowing” into your home life (and vice versa)? What kinds of things do you do?
  • We have heard several people indicate that they would like employers to make allowances for more types of family issues. Eldercare, adoption, maternity/paternity leave etc. have been mentioned? What types of programs would you like to see and how do you think they might be introduced to make home/family issues more flexible and accommodating for a wider group of situations? In what way can an employer accommodate family needs and still provide coverage and get the work done?
  • No matter what your work policies and programs are, some people are better than others at managing the work/life balancing act. Do you have personal strategies that help you find that balance no matter what the circumstances? 
  • Do you have any worries about layoffs? How is your performance measured when the Big Bosses start looking to cut people? How do you live with the daily, grinding stress and anxiety of “will it be me? And then what?”
  •  Does anyone work for a union that is actively seeking to enhance work/life issues?

General Summary of Comments

There were major themes and responses that came of the discussion of work/life balance held on March 13 and 14, 2013.

Important factors lending to a better work/life balance include flexible schedules, childcare, eldercare, family leave and simply time off of work. Another important component is the effort to make work less stressful and provide incentives promoting healthier lifestyle, normally called “wellness” or “work life” programs. Another workplace theme is ergonomics and the comfort of workspaces.

While many organizations supported flexible work hours, this applied more to faculty or professionals rather than civil service or union positions. Telecommuting is an option for some, but staff who work in public services are generally not able to take advantage of this. Some workplaces first deal with flexible schedules when a staff member asks for flexibility. Managers don’t always feel able to take advantage of schedule options.

Some institutions actually provide child care while eldercare options are not very common. Many wellness programs include workshops, weight loss programs, rewards, flex time to attend classes or workouts and some even give fitness release time. Academic institutions are more likely to have on campus fitness centers with free or discounted membership.

Granting time off to attend to family issues is a mixed bag. Maternity and paternity leave usually comply with FMLA guidelines. Some organizations are more liberal in allowing staff to use sick leave to care for family members and the definition of family varies, as well. The implementation of Paid Time Off leave (or unileave), versus distinct vacation and sick can help employees by not requiring a specific reason when leave is used. For long term illness, quite a few organizations have some sort of collective leave bank or leave sharing options that allow staff with plenty of sick leave to donate to those who find themselves dealing with long term health issues.

Despite numerous examples of programs or policies to promote a better work/life balance, challenges remain. Increased schedule flexibility combined with easier mobile communication tacitly encourages more connectedness with the workplace. We see more of a blurring of home and work life. Telecommuters sometimes have a difficult time disconnecting from work. Also, expectations for research and professional development often fall into a worker’s personal time. Also, flexible schedules can place additional burdens on staff who remain in the office working more traditional schedules.

Beyond flex time, maternity leave and more leave time for family issues, respondents were interested in seeing greater opportunities to bring pets to work (I once had a scorpion named Fluffy who would have loved a visit to my work), simply more awareness of the many familial demands on people, more telecommuting options, more attention to eldercare (not just childcare) and less intrusiveness when taking leave (in other words, no need to report why you are taking leave). 

There was quite a healthy discussion of ergonomics with some workplaces being proactive regarding improving ergonomics while others ignoring the issue.

Regardless of workplace support for achieving a work/life balance, many respondents had personal strategies for improving their situation. Some reported clearly delineating a boundary to supervisors and coworkers. The new technology that makes us so connected can also be turned off. When work spills over from coworkers, it may be better to let some of it go undone to show that you cannot keep doing more with less. It was pointed out that we need to derive meaning and a sense of self from more than just work. 

Someone mentioned that work, itself, is a balance to an overly demanding home life. Again, it is balance we are aiming for. Many people mentioned hobbies or physical activities like lunchtime walks or yoga that help bring balance. One should also have a personal goal to use the vacation time you are allocated. It matters less what you do on vacation, but more that you are not at work.

Finally, it seems apparent that other countries are far more progressive when addressing work/life balance issues. Americans work longer hours with less overall time off. The Netherlands has tax laws that encourage employers to reduce hours rather than lay off staff. Here, job security can play a big role in how people use their vacation time and treat expectations for 24/7 connectedness. The economic downturn has curtailed progress in securing more work/life balance programs and policies.

About the E-Forum Hosts

Leslie Burke is Collection Development and Digital Integration Librarian at Kalamazoo College. She has worked at Kalamazoo College since January 2012 handling serials, acquisitions, collection development and e-resources. Prior to working at K, Leslie was an Account Services Manager (a librarian-on-the-road) for EBSCO Information Services for 11 ½ years, performing customer service, training and problem-solving and providing solutions to clients in the Midwest states. Leslie was a corporate librarian for over a decade at Amway Corporation and a serials/acquisitions librarian at Western Theological Seminary. Leslie has been active in SLA, Michigan Health Sciences Library Association and other state and regional library groups. She has presented at state and regional library conferences and at SLA Annual conferences.

Robert Roose is the Support Services Manager at Spokane Public Library in Spokane, Washington. He has worked in public services at Renton Public Library (WA), Hobbs Public Library (NM) and both technical services and public services at Jefferson County Library (WA). He is active in the Washington Library Association.